Rita Marques, Government of Portugal
"We still have a huge barrier to overcome – it’s the perception of the risk."
Quote from Rita Marques, Portugal's tourism secretary, in an article on PhocusWire this week about recovery efforts by the travel industry.
Each Friday, PhocusWire dissects and debates an industry trend or new development covered by PhocusWire that week.
Perceptions are wretched things to have to deal with at the best of times - but in a period where there is nothing to benchmark them against, it's even tougher.
There is no historical precedent (such as a 15-month long pandemic that shut down the industry) to which consumer behavior can be measured accurately.
And perceptions, generally, are difficult to base any assumptions on given that sample sizes of opinion can never be totally reliable.
Industry leaders and governments are right when they say that “health authorities are in the pilot seat" and that travelers will only get on the road once more when they are reassured that it is safe to do so.
But this belief masks a number of other elements that may be causing some hesitation among those eager to travel once more.
The pandemic, in many respects, shone a light on the behavior of travel brands and how they treat customers.
There were some isolated incidents but, broadly, the repatriation of customers as routes shut down at a frantic pace in March 2020 happened fairly seamlessly.
A thumbs-up there, for sure, but where many brands came unstuck was in the process (or not) of repaying money to customers that had their trips canceled throughout much of the pandemic-struck year.
So, alongside the health risks that many travelers still fear, are genuine concerns that if things go wrong again (the industry is far from free yet from the disruption that can happen extremely quickly, as last year illustrated), customers will be left out of pocket.
Travelers want to be safe and they want to visit destinations and accommodation, fly on places or be transported in vehicles, which have their health concerns as the number one priority.
But they also want the companies that operating those products to have customer service working as efficiently and fairly as possible.
Health regulators have an important part to play in countering negative perceptions of what traveling will be like during the recovery process, but it's the industry's role to make sure it does everything it can to take every conceivable eventuality into account when it says it's looking after customers.
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